There is a law of unintended consequences.
When Gov. Brown signed a bill by state Sen. Joe Simitan (D-Palo Alto) into law, it meant private and public utilities must get 33 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. That’s up from the present 20 percent.
The senator said in a news release that the bill “confirmed California’s long-term commitment to clean green energy.” He meant power from the wind and sun.
But it also put one of our main local energy suppliers, the Merced Irrigation District, in a bind. And the MID officials say it will also put Merced County energy users in the same bind.
“The rules will make it more and more difficult for people to pay their utility bills,” John Sweigard, MID’s general manager, told the Sun-Star editorial board this week. He estimates a double-digit percentage increase in utility bills.
PG&E told the San Francisco Chronicle the same thing.
Sweigard said that at current rates, it will cost the MID $3.5 million a year to meet the renewable energy target by 2020. And who will pay for that cost increase?
We’re all for renewable energy. We’ve reported on what local companies and UC Merced are doing in the solar energy field – and we’re proud of their achievements.
But green costs green.
The MID has been lobbying state legislators, trying to get them to consider newly licensed projects for hydroelectric power, which the MID generates in abundance from its facilities on the Merced River, as renewable energy. “It’s insane that we have a carbon-free energy here and we’ll have to go out and buy more expensive energy,” said one MID official.
So far, the response to that request has been underwhelming, although MID said state Sen. Anthony Cannella has indicated he’ll introduce legislation to provide some relief to the district.
We know two facts about this issue:
1)The MID isn’t a widows and orphans fund; it is a business and will act in its own best interests;
2)Merced County is part of California, and if Californians want to be aggressive in setting high environmental goals, all of us have to participate and bite the cost bullet.
But we also know a third fact: according to census data, among five other nearby cities – Modesto, Turlock, Ceres, Stockton and Visalia – Merced has the highest percentage of residents living in poverty (26.6 percent); the lowest per capita income ($16,897); and by far the lowest median household income ($34,757).
We railed against a $29 million fine for the Valley last fall imposed by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District for violating the Clean Air Act. “An imperfect storm of uncontrollable air currents did us in,” we wrote. We asked for a break. (We didn’t get one, of course.)
Now we’re asking that Sacramento elected officials decide that the MID’s hydroelectric power projects be considered renewable energy. That would help keep folks’ utility bills down. And the MID says the projects have met rules to mitigate their environmental impact.
We’re not holding our breath that will happen, so we hope engaged residents will contact their elected officials and make the case we present here.
Merced still needs a break.
Editorials are the opinion of the Merced Sun-Star editorial board. Members of the editorial board include Publisher Eric Johnston, Executive Editor Mike Tharp, Online Editor Brandon Bowers and Guest Editor Jessica Boerner-Grissom.
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